How to reduce financial stress associated with a cancer diagnosis.

7 minutes.
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Help easing the financial burden that cancer may bring.

Financial stress is a very common cause of stress overall. People with cancer must manage the cost of treatment, and may have difficulty balancing their personal budget, possibly for the first time in their lives, which may tip some into financial crisis.

After a cancer diagnosis, many people worry about how they will manage the impact on their finances. One in two people will be diagnosed with cancer by the age of 85, according to the Cancer Council Australia. For these Australians there are many different types of costs that can add up during diagnosis, treatment and recovery. A review of out-of-pocket costs and the financial burden following a cancer diagnosis by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, found that, “Australians diagnosed with cancer frequently experience financial burden, and the health and financial consequences are significant.”

We explore some of the reasons why people with cancer and their families may develop financial problems and what can be done to help.

The financial impact of serious illness, including cancer, can be significant for people and their families. It may mean reduced income, permanently or temporarily, and higher living expenses associated with treatment and care. Family members, carers or support networks can also be impacted financially, often reducing work hours or assisting with additional costs of caring.

Research, from the ABS’s General Social Survey shows that one in five households were unable to raise $2,000 within a week for something important. So, a cancer diagnosis might create serious financial hardship for many Australians. Beyond potential for high medical costs, there is also the possibility of stress from worrying about paying bills or having delayed medical care due to costs.

When treatment does occur, some cancer patients face a shock when their medical bills are higher than expected. According to Kirsten Pillatti, CEO of Breast Cancer Network Australia, such bill shock “can cause significant distress and lead patients to make decisions about their care that may have negative health and ongoing financial impacts.”

Given these factors, a cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming for the patient and their family. Suitable health insurance may help to reduce some of the financial pressures so the patient can focus on their health and recovery. For people in need of cancer treatment, it’s important they know what’s covered by private health insurance. Each policy is different, and every treatment plan is unique; so, it’s important to read the details to know what is covered. Visit the Cancer Council to learn more about health care in Australia.

Dealing with financial stress

Financial stress may trigger many severe symptoms of anxiety, stress, depression and other health problems, no matter one’s age or socioeconomic status. Many debt holders may find themselves in a seemingly inescapable mental state revolving around thoughts about how to make payments to maintain their livelihood.
If you’re experiencing health issues because of your stress, you should contact your GP or you may access mental health resources.

Preparing your finances.

With a cancer diagnosis, it is helpful to have a clear understanding of your financial position and the impact that your treatment, recovery and not working for an extended period may have. Knowing what your cost of living is and how you could free up funds for additional medical or health support can alleviate some of the financial stress.

There are several practical things you can do to improve or clarify your financial position:

  • Create or update your budget so that you have a clear understanding of your income, expenses and balance – you may have a surplus or need to reduce your expenses. This Budget Planner is a 1-page step-by-step guide to help develop an effective budget.
  • Free up funds by reducing unnecessary or non-essential expenses. We've put together a handy cost-cutting checklist which may help to ease some of the strain on your finances.
  • Can you earn an income from an existing asset? For example, some people have successfully rented out a spare room in their home or a car that they didn’t need.
  • Gather essential personal documents (including your signed will and power of attorney, if these are available) and store them securely in a safe place for ease of reference if needed by your supportive loved ones. We’ve created this quick reference First things First checklist to help you.

Financial support to help pay your bills.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your bills, several options are available.

  • Apply for a hardship program that may be offered by your utility provider. Many utility providers offer flexible payment options to customers who’re having difficulty paying their bills.
  • Seek a rebate, discount or concession that may also be available from your utility provider.
  • Talk to your local council. Many local councils have a rate assistance or rebate policy for people in financial hardship.

Government support.

Centrelink has a number of payments available for those living with disabilities, illness and injury and their carers. Depending on your illness and financial situation, it may be appropriate for you and your carers to receive a Centrelink payment, including: JobSeeker PaymentDisability Support Pension, or Carer Payment and Carer Allowance.

Work closely with your bank.

There are many ways in which service providers, including Westpac, can assist you when you are going through serious illness, including cancer. It simply starts with a conversation. So, call or visit your local branch to chat with a banker. If you’re a business owner speak with your business banker or relationship manager. If you are experiencing financial difficulty, worried you can’t make your repayments, or your income has significantly changed as a result of an illness or injury Westpac Assist is here to help.

If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, or another serious illness or injury, Westpac’s here to help you with useful videos, guides (including the Serious Illness Guide) and tools to help you feel financially confident, supported and empowered so you can focus on your recovery.

What other help is available?

When a cancer diagnosis impacts your finances, seeing a professional for advice may help.

  • Financial counsellors provide information, advocacy, and referral services to people experiencing financial hardship. Put simply, financial counsellors can help you find solutions to your money problems. This may involve anything from helping with budgeting or learning money management skills, all the way through to more complex matters like advocating for debt waivers or helping you find financial hardship assistance. One way to find a financial counsellor in your area is to call the National Debt Helpline (NDH) on 1800 007 007. The NDH can not only find you a financial counselling service but can also provide information and support.
  • Financial planners are qualified investment professionals who help people meet their long-term financial objectives. Financial planners may also specialise in tax planning, asset allocation, risk management, and retirement and/or estate planning. You should consider checking with a financial planner if your life insurance options may assist you following a cancer diagnosis. Financial planners do not usually provide a free service and will charge fees. Look at the Financial Advisors Register to find a financial planner near you.
  • Cancer Support Services. If you need information on how to support someone with cancer visit:


  • Access support for carers and their families:
    • Social enterprise, Violet and Westpac have partnered to help Westpac customers, employees, and their families when someone they care for is in the last stages of life.
    • The Carer Gateway can help you find the right support and advice about being a carer as well as providing specific guides on mental health and other illnesses.

Key resource.

Download a PDF booklet from the Cancer Council, ‘Cancer and Your Finances’.

This information is general in nature and has been prepared without taking your objectives, needs and overall financial situation into account. For this reason, you should consider the appropriateness for the information to your own circumstances and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice. 

© Westpac Banking Corporation ABN 33 007 457 141 AFSL and Australian credit licence 233714.


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Lali Wiratunga

Lali Wiratunga believes in encouraging positive financial behaviours to boost people’s financial confidence and help organisations to deliver social impact. In 2016, Lali was recognised for creating a positive impact through Pro Bono Australia’s Impact 25. Following a career as a corporate lawyer and management consultant in the UK, he's had 17 years experience in roles across financial services in Australia. He serves in the community as a Board Director of Plate it Forward, a food-based social enterprise that drives equal opportunity through creating opportunities to employ, train and educate individuals who might otherwise be prevented from entering the workforce.

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